Elise and Otto Hampel
Every Man Dies Alone is inspired by Elise and Otto Hampel, a blue collar couple. Elise and Otto eluded the police and the Gestapo from September 1940-42, "leaving hundreds of postcards calling for civil disobedience and workplace sabotage all over Berlin."
One of the frequent subjects of the Hampels' postcards was the Winter Relief Fund, a seasonal charity backed by the Nazis, but widely suspected of being open to graft. A considerable public show was made of the fund, and not contributing to it was seen as a form of disloyalty. The Hampels used the fund as a touchstone of their opposition in part because "pressure to contribute was considerable, and armbands and pins were distributed for public display to identify donors -- and thus, non-donors. Much of the money was siphoned off by the party, and scholars have noted that it kept the populace short of extra cash and acclimated to the idea of privation." (Fallada)
Other characters in the novel, like Enno Kluge and Inspector Escherich, are also based on real individuals associated with the case. The story told in Every Man Dies Alone is not perfectly faithful to the Hampels' story. Fallada changed several central details, including the motivation for the campaign (it was the death of Elise's brother, rather than the death of a son, that lead the Hampels to begin) and the manner in which the couple meet their fate. Otto was eventually denounced by a fellow co-worker and discovered by an eyewitness, and the Hampels were beheaded in 1943.
Visit the German Resistance Memorial Center for profiles of other Germans who waged resistance campaigns against the Nazi regime.
This article was originally published in April 2009, and has been updated for the
March 2010 paperback release.
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